Last week, we published a post about how the former federal judge Stanley Sporkin served as a mentor figure to a number of prominent securities lawyers who didn’t necessarily come from an elite law school.
It was a different world in the 1960s and 70s, when Sporkin was with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the agency was in its infancy, Sporkin explained. He was able to make hiring decisions based on gut feeling, not just how someone looked on paper.
“The most important thing I saw in the person was that they could be my friend, and that we could be colleagues and work together,” Sporkin said. “The person had to be smart and they had to believe in what we were doing.”
Today, Sporkin, at age 84, is facing a possible retirement in June, after the lease expires on his office space at 1130 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., where he maintains a solo shop that costs him about $22,500 a month in rent.
“I don’t make that kind of money,” said Sporkin, whose job as Ombudsman for BP America, Inc. is coming to an end. The company had footed the cost of his office in exchange for his work until now, he said.
He has been in small talks, as he put it, with his son Thomas Sporkin at the law firm BuckleySandler , or as Judge Sporkin referred to him: Tommy.
“You know him!?” Sporkin got excited when I mentioned I spoke with Tom on a few stories. “How do you know him?... He’s a good kid.”
Sporkin said that whatever happens, he doesn’t want to work a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job anymore.
“You want a certain amount of freedom. I don’t want to get into a high-powered role. I’ve done it. I don’t want to do it again.”
Reflecting on his career, Sporkin noted a number of pivotal moments, and like the securities lawyers who he helped develop, Sporkin attributed much of his success to his own mentor figures.
He recalls that Bill Casey, a top advisor to President Ronald Reagan and director of the CIA in the 1980s, was instrumental in landing him a role on the federal bench.
“We became good friends when he was chair of the SEC. Little did I know that he would go ahead and run the Reagan campaign. I didn’t hear from him for a while and then he called me and said, ‘I want you to be the general counsel of the Export-Import Bank.’”
Sporkin said he turned the role down because he felt he didn’t have enough banking experience, but later in 1981, took the general counsel position for the CIA when it was offered to him by — again, Casey.
So when the time came that Sporkin felt that he wanted to become a federal judge — as his father had been, Sporkin told Casey, who advocated for him.
“When I was head of the CIA, he knew I wanted to be a judge, and he had friends in the White House who he knew could make judges. So, without going through the rigmarole, the president called me one day and just said he was going to nominate me.”
Sporkin became a judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and oversaw a number of cases, including one that he remembers particularly well regarding Holocaust survivors seeking restitution from the German government.
“I hear better than I read, so I used to have oral argument in virtually every case, and I liked to listen to the lawyers,” said Sporkin.
In searching for his next chapter, Sporkin said that he is considering continuing work for companies as an Ombudsman, or an appointed official who investigates complaints against a company and communicates them to management.
“Firms need an Ombudsman,” said Sporkin.